While glossy ski-resort brochures often show pictures of wide open bowls and endless powder, many dedicated skiers know that the trees are where it's at. Tight, technical, often magical, tree skiing can be a place where there's powder to be found days after a storm. On bad light days, trees provide better visibility.
So: A list of five of the best tree-skiing areas in Colorado.
1. Topher Trees, Mary Jane
It's hard to pick a favorite at Mary Jane and Winter Park, which has the greatest collection of technical tree skiing on the Front Range.
Almost all the big bump runs on Mary Jane have to-die-for skiing in the trees on either side, and the trees skier's left off Eagle Wind lift can yield some of the best runs in Colorado. Topher Trees are accessed from the Trestle run, on the right, just before the steep rollover, and are named for Christopher "Topher" Sendroy, a snowboarder who fell into a tree well and died. The farther right you go, the crustier the skiing, and the farther left you go the more powder -- but the center and right areas offer the best terrain after a big storm.
2. The Alleys, Arapahoe Basin
While A-Basin doesn't have the sheer volume of tree skiing that Winter Park does, what it does have is often excellent. The Lighting Trees in Montezuma Bowl are heaven after a powder dump, and worth the hike back from the bottom. However, the Alleys, on skier's left of Pallavicini, are steep and technical, and get more difficult the farther you ski down them. The trail map lists David's Alley, Second Alley, Third Alley, and West Alley as the four main runs. Try skiing between Second and Third and picking up the steep chutes below the middle traverse out for a fantastic run.
3. Christmas Tree Bowl, Steamboat
Like Mary Jane, Steamboat is renowned for its tree skiing. Ski Magazine rated it No. 1 for tree skiing in the country, and a quick glance at the trail map alone shows you a wide variety of tree runs, such as the ones skier's right of Sundown Express. A hike into the Christmas Tree Bowl can, when conditions are ripe, make for can't-miss skiing. It can be as steep and technical as you want to make it. Lower down, the runs all funnel into the Big Meadow.
4. Over the Rainbow trees, Loveland
From the top of lift 1, go skier's right and pick up the Over the Rainbow run. As the open part of the run ends, look to the trees on the right and left side. The right-side trees have a variety of chutes, but stay out of the rope line on skier's right; this blocks the Seven Sisters avalanche gullies. In his book Front Range Tree Skiing, David Bahr calls the trees on skiers left the Zoom Trees Right and says they are wide open glades, but they have some rocks underneath if the snow cover isn't as good.
5. Outback Bowl, Keystone
Yes, the exits from Outback Bowl are dreadfully flat and long, and a royal pain if you are on a snowboard. Paying for the snowcat ride seems like a plan to fleece the tourists, so just deal with the hike -- because there are some really nice tree runs on both sides of the Outback Bowl.
Drop in to skier's left from the ridge into the trees below South Bowl to avoid the crowds, while the variety of runs on your right can offer some very technical trees in off the runs below the Black Forest.